Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels had made writer/director Guy Ritchie the hottest new talent in the British film industry. Offers from major Hollywood studios to travel to the States and make his next film in America must have been numerous. However, with his next professional move, Ritchie (And his producing partner Matthew Vaughn) surprised everyone. Instead of travelling to Hollywood, they brought Hollywood to them.
2000’s Snatch is tonally and aesthetically similar to Ritchie’s first feature and shares many of the same cast and crew as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, yet nearly every factor of the production is turned-up to eleven. More money (budgeted at $10 million), more stars (Brad Pitt & Benicio del Toro) and of course, more plot! Ritchie managed to achieve the near impossible – he took the formula which had worked so effectively for his first feature and made an even better film second time round (His best work to date, In my own personal opinion).
It’s a tough job to give a brief description of the many plot-lines in Snatch, however, let’s give it a go. Jason Statham stars as Turkish, a small-time boxing promoter and slot-machine shop owner based in London. With his professional partner Tommy (Stephen Graham) he persuades horrible London gangster Brick-Top (Alan Ford) to let his prize fighter ‘gorgeous’ George fight in one of his matches. However, due to complications in the plot, George gets into a fight with and is knocked out by gypsy bare-knuckle fighter Mickey O’Neil (Brad Pitt). Turkish manages to convince Brick-Top to allow O’Neil to replace George in the match. Brick-Top agrees on the condition that the un-predictable O’Neil throws the match in the fourth round. Around this, professional thieve Freddy Four-Fingers (Benicio del Toro) steals an 86-caret diamond from a jewelers in Antwerp and heads to see Doug ‘The Head’ in London, a diamond dealer and cousin of Freddie’s employer, New York jeweler Cousin Avi. That is only the main two set-ups in a film which introduces 12 characters just in its main title sequence.
Ritchie expertly weaves his narrative together, as the ripples from one set-up naturally affect another, all leading to a very satisfying conclusion. His dialogue, which had already been fairly sharp in his first feature, is even more honed here. With less gratuitous violence than his first feature, Snatch is practically a straight comedy set in the criminal underworld, as opposed to a gangster film with comedic elements.
Ritchie displayed a talent for casting in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and in Snatch he again finds just the perfect performer for each role. Hollywood stars ‘dressing down’ for an indie picture is a well-trodden path, yet few have ‘dressed-down’ quite as much as Brad Pitt does here. With his high-pitched Irish accent, dirty clothes & cap and white vest he transforms himself into the role of Mickey O’Neil. The particular gypsy caricature he plays must be unique to the United Kingdom, yet he fits the role perfectly. Benicio del Toro is required to do less dramatic alteration to his character, yet is very good as the sly, aloof, easily-tempted Freddy.
Ritchie didn’t just look to the states to cast this feature though. He brings back Jason Statham, this time promoting him to what is effectively the lead role of the film (if there is such a thing as a ‘lead role’ in this film). Showing far more dramatic ability than he previously had, Ritchie effectively directs Statham as he had done Vinnie Jones before, leaning into his stoic demeanor and coaxing from the performer a humorously ‘deadpan’ performance. Jones also returns playing much the same character he did for Ritchie first time round, yet he has much more confidence on-screen here and delivers a genuinely charismatic performance. The rest of the cast is filled out by a wealth of British actors – Lennie James, Stephen Graham and even Mike Reid (Who is very good and even shares a scene with del Toro!).
To make this all work through Ritchie needed a villain that could give the film it’s stakes whilst not detracting from the comedy. He found it in Alan Ford’s Brick-Top. With his yellow teeth, large rimmed old-fashioned glasses and permanent snarl he looks as un-appealing on the outside as he is on the inside (like an evil-nan). Seemingly without compassion he appears to be driven by pure ambition with no regard for anyone that may stand in his way. He is a caricature pantomime villain, outlandishly fantastical enough to match any of the larger-than-life characters in the rest of the film. Alan Ford accentuates his London accent for the role, yet he also physically inhabits the character, sticking out his jaw and baring his bottom teeth in the same way a monkey does when making an aggressive show. His ‘pig’ & ‘nemesis’ speech is a highlight of the film.
Visually Ritchie is much more confident in his directorial skills in Snatch – he gives the film a frantic, kinetic energy similar to a life-action Looney Toons cartoon. Fast cuts, split-screens, use of still images, dramatic music cues, Ritchie uses all the tricks at his disposal. Visually ambitious techniques that strike to mind are in the opening credits sequence in which a group of Hasidic Jews are watched as they go through security and travel up a tall tower block, all seen through the security camera bay of the building, the camera gliding along from screen-to-screen, picking up their journey like pages from a comic book. The film’s final penultimate sequence all cut around O’Neil’s final match is very well edited as well, benefiting from John Murphy’s music.
There are elements of the film that have not aged well. It’s depiction of the traveler community is caricatured and most likely insulting (The word ‘pikey’ is used continuously in the film). Also, there are homophobic jibes through out the film. With all the speaking roles that exist in the film, only one of them belongs to a woman (and she only gets a few lines).
Snatch made approximately $83 million dollars at the world-wide box office, another hit for Ritchie. It was fairly well received by critics, its detractors criticizing Snatch’s similarities to Ritchie’s first film and complaining it was style-over-substance. It most likely is style-over-substance, yet when the style is this entertaining, does it matter?